A few hours before I was about to embark on a twelve hour bus journey from Vientiane to Luang Prabang, I walked past a woman working by the side of the road making something interesting. Well, you know me—when I see interesting food, it stops me dead in my tracks. So I stopped and watched her for awhile. She told me she was making Lao pancakes. Making Lao pancakes involves pouring a batter into a mould that looks a little bit like a poached egg mold (if you make your poached eggs the easy way). Then, she would pour some coconut milk into the batter as it cooked and she would sprinkle a few chives on top. When it was “ready” (and I couldn’t really figure out how she knew when they were ready, but she seemed to know), she would flip one half circle on top of another half circle and they would join together as they cooked just a little longer. She sold the pancakes in baskets made out of banana leaves with a little baggie of sweet hot chili sauce.
As with the myriad other street vendors who I end up standing in front of, mesmerised, she ended up offering that I could buy some. The problem was, I’ve been eating myself so silly lately that I really wasn’t hungry. But I really wanted to try those cute little pancakes, too. I told her I was going to go for a little walk, and I would come back and buy some from her before I set off for my stupid long bus ride.
Well, just as I got back to the street vendor, she was in the midst of selling her last two banana leaf baskets of pancakes. The person who had just bought them was at least kind enough to let me get a photo of the baskets. As that person was walking away, I noticed that the street vendor still had two lonely little pancakes left on her grill, so I asked her whether I could buy just one, and she said she’d let me do that, which worked out perfectly for me, as I was, truth be told, still not even remotely hungry. So I sat there with that street vendor and her daughter and sampled the pancakes. Whereas for the other customer she served the pancakes with a baggie of sweet hot chili sauce, for me she set a bowl of sugar next to my pancakes, which I was meant to sprinkle onto it. It was, mmm, pretty okay.